Records that Sound Best on the Right Early Pressing

Thelonious Monk – Monk.

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  • This wonderful Black Print 360 Columbia pressing impressed us, earning outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or better on both sides and playing about as quietly as any stereo original we’ve found
  • Columbia records produced by Teo Macero in the early ’60s have consistently open, natural sound – this one from 1964 is no exception
  • The piano has real weight, the bass definition is wonderful, Rouse’s sax is full-bodied, and the overall sound is Columbia to a “T”: warm, sweet, and rich
  • The Thelonious Monk Quartet of 1964 is well featured on this excellent set… Easily recommended to Monk fans, this set is just further proof that he never made an unworthy recording.”

*The last track on this side gets a little crackly and plays Mint Minus Minus to EX++.

We’re big Monk fans here at Better Records and we wish we could get more records like this up on the site. Unfortunately, clean, vintage pressings of Monk’s music have become increasingly difficult to find, and even when you can track them down, they rarely play as quietly as this one, and of course, this being a Hot Stamper, they rarely sound as good as this one. (more…)

Gene Ammons – Angel Eyes

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  • This original Prestige stereo LP has Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from beginning to end – fairly quiet vinyl for an original pressing
  • Both sides here are doing justice to Rudy Van Gelder’s live-in-the-studio sound – they were bigger, richer, more Tubey Magical, with more space, more energy, more everything that makes a vintage analog pressing the thrill we know it can be
  • For half the album “Ammons is heard in 1962 with pianist Mal Waldron, bassist Wendell Marshall, and drummer Ed Thigpen playing with great warmth on the ballads “You Go to My Head” and “It’s the Talk of the Town.” The latter set was one of Ammons’ final ones before serving a long prison sentence (drug-related), yet his interpretations are full of optimism. Recommended.”

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Nat King Cole Sings / George Shearing Plays

More Nat King Cole

More Nat King Cole Sings / George Shearing Plays

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides of this wonderful collaboration from 1962 
  • Two masters come together here to create a compilation of timeless arrangements still appreciated by both music lovers and audiophiles to this day
  • It’s tough to find top quality sound for Nat King Cole – here’s your chance to hear just how good he sounded on this All Tube Recording from the early ’60s
  • “Cole is in prime form on such songs as “September Song,” “Pick Yourself Up,” and “Serenata.” Shearing’s accompaniment is tasteful and lightly swinging, and the string arrangements help to accentuate the romantic moods.”

The better pressings of this unique collaboration between Nat King Cole and George Shearing put Cole’s voice right up front with lovely breath and natural texture. On the better copies such as this one, the Nat’s vocals are full-bodied, the piano has real weight, and the soundfield is open and transparent. If you want a great sounding male vocal LP in your collection, this one will do the trick nicely. (more…)

Perez Prado (and Better Records) Implore You to Turn Up the Volume

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Another in the long list of recordings that sounds its best when you Turn Up Your Volume.

Tube smear is common to most pressings from the late ’50s, and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least amount of smear, or none, yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich. Full sound is especially critical to the horns: any blare, leanness or squawk ruins much of the fun, certainly at the loud levels the record should be playing at.

Which brings up a point that needs making. The tonality of this record is correct when it is playing loud. The trumpets do not get harsh at loud volumes the way they will on, say, a Chicago record. The timbre of the instruments is correct when loud, which means that it was mixed loud to sound correct when loud.

The frequency extremes (on the best copies) are not boosted in any way. When you play this record quietly, the bottom and top will disappear (due to the way the ear handles quieter sounds as described by the Fletcher-Munson curve).

Most records (like most audiophile stereos) are designed to sound correct at moderate levels. Not this album. It wants you to turn it up. Then, and only then, will everything sound completely right from top to bottom.

If you like the sound of percussion instruments of every possible flavor, including some you have never tasted before, you will have a hard time finding a more magical recording of them than this. (more…)

Sons of the Pioneers – Cool Water

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  • A stunning sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • These sides have a richness and sweetness that’s disappeared entirely from modern recordings yet they’re still incredibly clean, clear and spacious
  • If you want to know why people love Living Stereo records, playing either side of this record should be more than sufficient
  • “The original release, issued at the height of the stereophile boom of the late 1950s, was a vivid display of close, intimate presence and discreet channel separation.” – All Music

This original RCA Black Label Living Stereo LP has two AMAZING sides, making this without a doubt the best sounding pressing we have ever had the distinct pleasure to play! We were as shocked to hear this copy as you will no doubt be (if you end up with it of course; there’s only one like this to go around.) (more…)

Perez Prado – Pops and Prado

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  • Outstanding sound for this Living Stereo pressing with each side earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades and playing about as quietly as any RCA from 1959 ever does
  • These sides are unbelievably Tubey Magical, dynamic and spacious – this is vintage Analog Exotica at its best
  • Credit for the Demo Disc sound of this one must go to one of our favorite engineers, Bob Simpson, here working with the glorious acoustics of Webster Hall
  • “… the use of two organs, or double the signature sound of the next phase of Prado, is significant and very effective. This is more fun than any of his previous attempts at safe commercialism.”

Bob Simpson won the Grammy for engineering Belafonte at Carnegie Hall you may recall. (more…)

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band – East-West

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on this Gold Label stereo pressing of the band’s sophomore release – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • It’s tough to find an original with good sound and audiophile surfaces – a copy that plays this quietly is almost unheard of!
  • Big and full-bodied with a huge bottom end – Elektra was killing it in ’66
  • 5 stars: “… it was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s greatest achievement… East-West captures a great group in high flight as the bandmembers join together in something even more remarkable than their estimable skills as individuals would suggest, and its importance as a nexus point between rock, blues, jazz, and world music cannot be overestimated.”

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Van Morrison – Astral Weeks – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

MASTER TAPE SOUND ON SIDE ONE! Here’s a stunning copy of Astral Weeks with a side one that just can’t be beat. We recently had the chance to play quite a few of these, and this one was just UNSTOPPABLE on side one. Side two is also very good and the vinyl plays relatively quietly throughout, between Mint Minus and Mint Minus Minus. It might be ages before another Hot copy hits the site, so grab this one before it’s gone for good!

I don’t think there’s too much I can tell you about Astral Weeks that’s going to convince you to buy it or not. It’s obviously one of the man’s two masterpieces and one of the most beloved albums of its time.

This is just the second Hot Stamper copy ever to hit the site, because it’s too hard to find clean copies of this album that sound good. Standard Green Label pressings can fetch around $100 on Ebay, so we just can’t afford to pick these up in the kind of numbers we need to get repeated Hot Stamper shootouts going. (more…)

This Is the Kind of Thing You Notice When You Play Dozens of the Same Album

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If you have a copy or two laying around, there is a very good chance that side two will be noticeably thinner and brighter than side one. That has been our experience anyway, and we’ve been playing batches of this album for well over a decade. To find a copy with a rich side two is rare indeed.

Most copies lack the top end extension that makes the sound sweet, opens it up and puts air around every instrument. It makes the high hat silky, not spitty or gritty. It lets you hear all the harmonics of the guitars and mandolins that feature so prominently in the mixes.

If you’re looking for a big production pop record that jumps out of your speakers, is full of TUBEY MAGIC, and has consistently good music, look no further. (more…)

Frank Sinatra – Come Swing With Me! – Our Shootout Winner from 2005

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Hall of Fame.

I discovered that some of these later Capitol reissues can really sound good about ten years ago. They’re cheap when you find them because collectors don’t want them and audiophiles as a whole think that cheap reissues always sound bad. But here at Better Records we don’t really deal too much with record collectors per se. We deal with that tiny minority of audiophiles who want real music that actually sounds good. (The majority of audiophiles want Patricia Barber records and they can have her.)

So we love finding great Sinatra albums from his prime recording days that actually sound the way we want them to — lively and fun.

This means slogging through lots of bad pressings in order to find the gems like this one. Buy hey, somebody’s got to do it. I guess it might as well be me since nobody else wants the job. (more…)